Make it back-to-back comeback victories against a division rival. The Yankees topped the Blue Jays tonight, 3-2. Gerrit Cole was terrific in spite of no longer using whatever concoction he previously used on the baseball, which was great to see. He even touched 102 MPH on the radar gun in his final inning of work. Also fun: Gary Sánchez’s pinch-hit, two-run homer in the seventh that put the Yankees ahead for good. To the takeaways:
Gerrit Cole’s spin rates were down, as expected. Time will tell how it affects him, but tonight, it didn’t matter. Obviously, losing spin doesn’t help. But that doesn’t mean he’s a dramatically worse pitcher all of the sudden, either. It’s going to take a few starts to get a better feel for how good Cole is without the stuff he used before. Nonetheless, he pitched pretty damn well tonight. No, he didn’t have a big strikeout total (four), but I’ll take two runs over eight innings any day.
Now, here’s what we can see spin-wise from tonight’s start:
|Pitch Type||RPM (League Avg)||RPM (Season)||RPM (Tonight)||Change (%)|
|4-Seam Fastball||2312||2549||2347||-202 (-7.9%)|
|Knuckle Curve||2549||2832||2695||-137 (-4.8%)|
Those are large decreases, that’s for sure. A lower spin change is actually good, generally speaking, but the others: not so much. High spin on a fastball makes it more effective up in the zone. High spin breaking balls contribute to movement. Still, even tonight Cole sat above league average marks without the sticky stuff, particularly on his knuckle curve. And keep in mind that the league average will go down.
Also worth noting: Cole proactively made an adjustment with his fastball location. He clearly anticipated the spin rate drop, and instead of still trying to blow heaters past opponents upstairs, he pitched down in the zone a lot more often today. Take a look:
Still a decent amount of fastballs upstairs, but there’s a cluster of fastballs down-and-away from righties. Good to see him make that adjustment. He’s going to have to figure out how to pitch with reduced spin, and this may be one way to do it. He limited Jays’ hitters to an 86.3 MPH exit velocity against his four-seamer today, even including Marcus Semien’s solo homer in the first. The whiffs were definitely not there (just 2 in 24 swings, 8%), but I’ll take this performance regardless. He had a 26.2 percent whiff rate against his fastball entering this game, for reference.
Now, if you were worried about Cole’s control without the sticky stuff, stop worrying. He walked just one batter and threw 70 of 104 pitches for strikes (67%). You’ve seen the fastball locations, so now, take a look at the heatmap of his secondary offerings:
Excellent stuff. Plenty of curves, sliders, and changeups downstairs.
More strikeouts would have been nice, but again, two runs in eight innings works every time regardless of how it’s done. Keep in mind that this is a tough Toronto lineup that has the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in the majors. So, it’s not purely the lack of foreign substances taking away Cole’s strikeouts today. The Blue Jays are good.
Now, it’s never a good idea to make too much out of one start, but it’s certainly encouraging to see Cole succeed against a very good lineup without whatever he used previously to increase spin. And keep in mind that this ~200 RPM dip may not be permanent. There are other contributing factors to account for (the YES booth mentioned chilly weather today, for what it’s worth). Obviously, the majority of the dip is foreign substance related, but it’s going to take a few starts to get a better idea of where Cole’s spin rates will settle.
Ross Stripling inexplicably dominated for most of this one. This was a pretty infuriating offensive performance up until the seventh inning, which I’ll discuss in a bit. Ross Stripling, who came into this start with an unsightly 4.91 ERA, absolutely cruised in this one after the Yankees let him off the hook in the first inning. The offense scored just one run (on Giancarlo Stanton’s sacrifice fly) after the first three batters of the game reached and loaded the bases. Not great!
At one point, Stripling retired 14 straight Yankees before Brett Gardner drew a walk in the fifth. No harm, no foul though. Stripling continued his dominance and held Toronto’s lead 2-1 through six frames.
It’s one thing to struggle against a good pitcher, but it’s another to look terrible against a bad pitcher. Stripling came into tonight’s game in the 17th percentile in exit velocity (91 MPH) and 36th percentile in whiff rate (24.7%). So what did he do tonight? Limit the Yankees to an 85.3 MPH average exit velocity and pick up 18 whiffs on 50 swings (36%). Pretty inexplicable.
Lineups have off night’s from time to time, but this happens far too often to the 2021 Yankees. And considering that it seemed like they were starting to snap out of things (40 runs in last 7 games), this one was even more confounding.
Thankfully, Gary Sánchez saved the day.
His pinch-hit two-run shot put the Yankees ahead in the seventh.
The personal catcher discussion has to be re-opened. Thanks to that huge homer and his recent hot hitting (.333/.393/.647, 181 wRC+ in his last 56 plate appearances entering tonight), Sánchez has to be in consideration to catch Cole in future starts. Especially if the offense goes through an extended rut again while Gary remains the lone guy raking. It’s not like Cole struggled with Gary tonight either, tossing two shutout innings following Sánchez’s entrance.
Kyle Higashioka has been pretty bad for a while now at the dish. I know he and Cole are tight, but Higgy’s got a .162/.225/.189 (20 wRC+) in his last 40 plate appearances. He’s already lost playing time to Gary, and deservedly so. Now, whether or not he’ll lose his battery mate in Cole is a legitimate debate again.
On one hand, I’m totally fine leaving Kyle Higashioka as Cole’s personal catcher. Like any backstop, Sánchez will needs days off and once per turn through the rotation isn’t the end of the world. Then again, and like I mentioned before, if the offense is going through a rut and Gary is the one guy still hitting, things have to be reconsidered. Now, if Gary just so happens to need a day off and Cole is lined up to pitch, catch Higgy. That will always make sense. But it’s pretty hard to justify a predetermined catcher for Cole as long as the offense isn’t up to snuff.
- The ninth inning was never in doubt, right? Toronto put runners on second and third with no one out against Aroldis Chapman, but failed to score. The Yankees got a couple of breaks: a baserunning blunder by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and a possible bad call on a foul tip that could have been a passed ball.
- Aside from Sánchez, the only other Yankees with hits were Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Miguel Andújar. Again, not a good showing from the bats.
- I know Chris Gittens had the platoon advantage against Hyun Jin Ryu yesterday and not against Stripling tonight, but would it have been so bad to play him over Rougned Odor tonight? Odor went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
The Yankees have a chance to sweep the Blue Jays tomorrow at Sahlen Field. It’s another 7:07pm eastern start. Michael King will face TJ Zeuch. Have a good night, everyone.